Culture of Inequality

Cultural Adviser Tom Campbell and Guardian writer Homa Khaleeli published a piece in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago asking questions around exploitation, under-representation in the cultural sector. The piece touched on a number of issues that I’m often on my mind: the changing nature of internships, how dependent arts marketers are on programming to achieve desired audience goals, and how to stay motivated  and committed to my work as I get older and my priorities in life are changing.

Unadvertised, unpaid internships they way they’re most often provided at the moment are not helping anyone. That is, using recent graduates as unpaid labour for months on end, offering no meaningful training and knowing full well that there is no job on offer at the end of it. I once quit a job over the company’s decision to recruit an unpaid intern as a solution to getting through the backlog of uncompleted admin work. But I’m less convinced that internships always need to be fully paid. For those organisations who can afford the desk space and the staff time, and perhaps by using quotas to ensure that the beneficiaries are from the under-represented areas of society and reasonable expectations of the time we expect interns to devote to the experience, they could be a valuable start to building the networks and contacts required for many who make a living in our industry.

Dr Omar Kholeif’s contribution to the piece cites the importance of programming that reflects the audience we want. I really enjoyed Donna Walker-Kuhn’s talk at the 2016 Arts Marketing Association Conference on the vital role programming plays, and the work, patience and cross-organisational commitment that it takes to change the demographics of our audience, so often seen as the responsibility of the communications team. Walker-Kuhn also reminded us how important it is to consult and empower the community we’d like to invite to our venues and artforms when figuring out how to welcome everyone.

Walker Kuhne

“We need the very people we’re trying to talk about to be in the room” Donna Walker-Kuhne

It’s certainly true for me, and I believe for many others, that our passion for and commitment to our field is borne from meaningful engagement as a child or teenager. When we continue to fail to attract diverse audiences, or audiences that come close to representing wider society, we’re failing at the most basic level to begin to recruit the diverse workforce that we would like to have.

The article also touches on the under-representation of women in the creative industries in general (including fields like advertising), with this becoming particularly accute in the more senior level jobs. Arts Council England meanwhile, recognises that the majority of staff in NPOs are disproportionaly female. I don’t feel that it’s a coincidence that women are more strongly represented  in the parts of our sector that are more typically not-for-profit. ACE additionally recognises that the largest proportion of NPO staff are aged under 35, and that women are under-represented at senior and board level.

Are we surprised that the predominantly young female workforce find it challenging  as they get older to progress in a career where we’re there’s an expectation to devote unpaid hours to their jobs “for the love of it”? Where they can often expect the most basic level of maternity pay and where the hours are less than family friendly? This other Guardian article showing a similar phenomenon in the commercial music industry suggests publicly-funded organisations are not alone in this.

One of the many people sharing and commenting on the article was Dr Dave O’Brien from University of Edinburgh. Dr O’Brien shared his working paper on the cultural values of people working in the creative industries, which showed the sector  to be the most liberal, most left wing, and most pro-welfare of any sort of job.

Dave O'Brien

Ironic, then, that we’re failing so badly to reflect our society in our work and in our workforce.

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